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Healthcare Professionals' Guide for Speaking with Parents


Here are some of the most common questions that parents may have about influenza vaccination along with proposed responses you can use when discussing vaccination with parents and others.

UPDATE: On June 22, 2016, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended a change to US influenza vaccination policy for 2016-2017. ACIP voted that live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), also known as the “nasal spray” flu vaccine, should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season. ACIP continues to recommend annual flu vaccination, with either the inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) or recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV), for all individuals age 6 months and older.

What exactly is influenza? Is it really that serious?
Yes! Influenza, also called the flu, is a contagious viral infection of the nose and throat that is easily spread from person to person, through sneezes, cough, and even talking. It can lead to serious complications in children, including hospitalization and death. 

Influenza and its complications claim thousands of lives and hospitalize more than 200,000 in the United States every year. Each year, influenza causes approximately 20,000 hospitalizations, mostly in children less than 5 years of age, and an average of 100 pediatric deaths in children less than 18 years old, nearly half of whom were previously healthy.

How can I tell if my child has influenza?
Influenza typically comes on very suddenly. The symptoms usually include high fever, aches, chills, headache, cough, and extreme tiredness. Children, especially infants and toddlers, may have additional symptoms that adults usually don’t experience, including ear aches, nausea, and vomiting.

How effective is the influenza vaccine? Do vaccines always work? 
The effectiveness of the influenza vaccine can range widely from season to season and can also vary depending on the recipient. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but vaccination is the single most important step you can take to protect yourself against influenza. 

Why does my child need to get an influenza vaccination every year?
An annual influenza vaccination is the best way to protect your child against influenza, as the strains circulating can change each year. Many health organizations recommend annual influenza vaccination in order to reduce the risk of becoming infected with the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends annual influenza vaccination for all individuals 6 months of age and older.

My child was vaccinated last year, so why does he/she need to get vaccinated again this year?
The circulating influenza viruses usually change from year to year. Each year’s influenza vaccine is designed to protect against the virus strains that will be circulating that season. Annual vaccination is the best way to protect against influenza.

Is the injectable influenza vaccine safe for a child who has a chronic medical condition?
The injectable influenza vaccine is safe for all infants and children 6 months of age and older and has very few side effects. In addition, vaccination is beneficial for individuals with compromised immune systems or certain underlying medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart disease), because influenza can worsen chronic medical conditions or cause serious complications in people with chronic illnesses. For example, healthcare professionals believe that many asthma flare-ups are brought on by influenza.

Is vaccination against influenza safe for everyone?
The vaccine is safe with few exceptions. Individuals who have had a severe reaction to eggs or egg proteins or a previous influenza vaccine-associated allergic reaction should avoid immunization. Those who have ever developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) after getting an influenza vaccine, should avoid vaccination. People with high fever should usually wait until their symptoms ease. Certain groups should not receive the nasal-spray vaccine, including persons younger than 2 years of age, those 50 years and older, children or adolescents taking aspirin, pregnant women, and individuals with certain underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.

For most people, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the potential risks.

Can the influenza vaccine actually cause influenza? Are there any side effects?
Influenza vaccination does not cause influenza. The most frequent side effect of the injectable influenza vaccine is soreness at the injection site for one to two days. Occasionally, some people experience a period of mild fever and fatigue for a day or two, following vaccination.

Side effects from the nasal-spray vaccine are generally mild and temporary. The most common side effect is runny nose. Other side effects include cold-like symptoms, such as headache, cough, sore throat, tiredness or weakness, irritability, and muscle aches.

When should I get my child vaccinated?
The best time to receive influenza vaccination is before exposure to the virus. You and your child can get vaccinated as soon as vaccine is available in your community. Getting vaccinated now gives your body time to build protection against the strains of influenza predicted to be most common this influenza season. It typically takes two weeks to be protected after being vaccinated.

Is it true that the influenza vaccine can cause autism or other diseases?
Many studies, both in and outside of the United States, have not shown any link between vaccines and autism or other diseases.

Aren’t infants too young to be vaccinated against influenza? Are they able to handle so many vaccines in a short period?
Beginning at 6 months of age, it is very important for infants to be vaccinated, because babies are extremely vulnerable to severe complications – even death – from influenza. Babies manage a huge number of challenges to their immune systems from birth on. Their bodies have billions of immune cells that keep bacteria in check. Vaccines provide essential protection against more than a dozen diseases to help babies get through the most vulnerable period of their lives and to keep them safe in the future.

How many vaccinations are necessary to be protected?
One vaccination a year is all that is needed to protect against influenza, except for children age 6 months through 8 years who are receiving influenza vaccination for the first time. These children require two injectable vaccine doses at least one month apart to ensure the best chance of being protected.